Snow melt in Butte

Cars splash through a giant puddle at the intersection of Rowe Road and Dewey Boulevard on Tuesday evening in Butte. 

Butte-Silver Bow crews are clearing many storm-water drains and taking other steps in preparation for the seasonal snow melt, and residents can help themselves and their neighbors, too.

But despite the heavy snowfall and bitter cold temperatures in February and early March, county officials say the situation is far from an emergency, at least at this stage.

“If you had to put this on a level where level 4 is not an emergency and level 1 is an extreme emergency, we are probably at a monitoring level 4 right now,” Dan Dennehy, Butte-Silver Bow’s emergency management director, said Monday.

Dennehy said he met with Public Works Director Mark Neary and county Chief Executive Dave Palmer early last week to discuss preparations, and Palmer told commissioners at their last meeting that conditions are being monitored.

“People in Butte are common-sense people, and they know when it’s going to flood,” Dennehy said. “They have been through heavy storms and heavy snow-melts before, so they pretty much know what to do.”

Still, he said, the county is taking some preliminary steps.

“This weekend they had crews from Metro Sewer go to some of the neighborhoods trying to free up frozen storm drains,” he said. “They were out trying to thaw storm systems, especially in neighborhoods that are prone to flooding.”

They include the area around the old Greeley Elementary School on the Flat in northeast Butte and the Renz Addition in south Butte, he said.

“They typically don’t have storm-water systems, so the ones (drains) they do have are important,” Dennehy said. “If the snow melts quickly, they could flood. But the operative word there is could.”

Crews will be checking drains and streets in Uptown Butte this week in preparation for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and festivities on Sunday, he said.

Dennehy said private businesses that plow snow in Butte can make things worse when it comes to snow melt.

“Sometimes they put snow right on top of the storm drains, and we have to find out where they are and do some work to get them thawed,” he said.

Sunshine and milder afternoon temperatures the past few days have helped thaw many streets, and highs Friday and into the weekend are expected to be in the upper 30s to around 40, according to the National Weather Service.

But overnight lows are still well below freezing, and went well below zero overnight Sunday into early Monday morning. Dennehy said that’s just what you want when it comes to snow melt.

“If we can get that sort of thing into the early spring, that is one of the most optimal scenarios we can have,” he said.

If highs suddenly jump into the 50s and lows don’t get below freezing, then there will be some low-lying water around, especially in areas prone to flooding, Dennehy said.

He said there are things residents can do themselves, including:

  • If you see storm drains that are blocked or frozen, you can report them to the County Corral at 406-497-6565. If you go to voicemail, state the location of the drain and crews will try to respond.
  • Residents can try to free storm drains themselves, but county crews have special equipment that makes the job easier and more thorough.
  • Make sure snow and ice is clear from drains, window wells, ditches and culverts under driveways.
  • Create a flow path for runoff away from your house and property.
  • Beginning March 18, free sand and sandbags will be available at the Corral on Civic Center Road, just east of the Civic Center, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

More tips can be accessed via a link on the county’s homepage at co.silverbow.mt.us

The county can seek an emergency declaration if necessary to access additional funding to deal with the snow melt, but Dennehy said it is too early to consider that now.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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